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Olivia, Some Pig

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

I woke up before dawn this morning, nightmaring about Olivia. I dreamed that we had moved to a new house and had no pen for her, so she was spending her last day in our concrete basement.  She was like a prisoner, and I cried because she had no mud.  Her last day of life and she couldn’t do the thing she loved so much, to root and roll around in a muddy wallow.  She sat slumped in a corner. I had a huge basket full of colorful vegetables, Kohlrabi, big fat carrots, kale and squash.  All her favorites. I kept bringing her armloads, trying to make her happy.  She started snorting, then I heard someone call my name and woke up, relieved that it was just a dream.

A lot of people have said that I shouldn’t have named her. Naming her isn’t what makes this hard, and I don’t regret doing it at all.

I love Olivia. I love bacon. In my family, if you really love someone, you make them a pork roast for their birthday dinner. The words, “this would be awesome with some bacon in it…” are common around here.

Olivia at 12 weeks

Raising Olivia, I’ve learned that there is so much more to eating pork, than how tasty it is.  Being nice counts.

She’s been petted, patted, belly scratched and well fed.  She was able to live a life the way nature intended, going ears deep in a muddy bog, then napping in the bed she made of straw.

Knowing that Olivia spent the last year and a half being adored by, not only by me and John, but by hundreds of kids and parents, and even blog or Facebook followers , all of this counts.

As Joel Salatin would say, Olivia has lived a great life, and had one bad day. In my mind,  The good life outweighs today, the bad day.   I don’t have to be here when the ranch butcher comes. I could just let him in, pay him, and go get a  pedicure.

Olivia, yawning before a nap

But I won’t.

In order to bring this full circle, to follow my core values, I have to take part in the end of her life. It will, easily, be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ll spend the 45 minutes, or so, that it will take, giving silent thanks to Olivia for all the joy she brought to the farm, and the meat that will feed my family for the next year.  And I’ll try to not to cry, but will let myself, if I need to.

Enjoying an ear scratch, Spring 2012

It’s later in the day now. The butcher came out right on time. I won’t be giving a graphic description of the process because it seems disrespectful to Olivia and anyone reading this.  (If anyone is planning to raise a pig for harvest, and wants to discuss, email me) Suffice it to say, I wasn’t prepared. He worked so fast. The shot went off while I was mid thought. My eyes filled with tears and I made a (too) loud gasp. The first 10 minutes were really difficult and I was swearing that I’d never do this again.  All of the animals knew that something was going on. They just know.

I’ll be spending the rest of the day doing hard farm work (which always makes me feel better) and trying to keep the trust of the other animals, who are very suspicious, now.

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You know you’re a farmer when…

You drag yourself out of bed at 7 o’clock Saturday morning to send your pig off to the breeder. Yup, that’s right…Olivia, it’s time to play Mystery Date! Will you get the Stud or the Dud???

The couple that sold Olivia to us, in June, offered to pick her up and take her back to breed with their purebred Old Spot pig. She is 7/8 Old Spot, so her piglets will be as close to 100% as possible. John and I were nervous, maybe even scared, about how this would work. Olivia weighs about 300 pounds and is super strong. The stock trailer/truck combo was too big to fit through our access gate, so we needed to convince her to walk across the yard, into the driveway, and step up a foot into the trailer, about 25 feet away. Um, yeah.

Luckily, this little piggy loves food and knows my voice, so she just followed me to the trailer and, after thinking about it for a minute, climbed in, one hoof at a time.

I was so proud, I thought I’d cry! I love that big pig!

It was agreed that she is in heat right now, so, if all goes well, we’ll have piglets in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. AKA end of April/beginning of May.

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Piggy Royale

I can’t believe it…Today, this little piggy went whee-whee-whee, all the way home with ME!  I love Craigslist.  Al my best stuff comes from ads I find there.  Emma Bean, Sienna, most of my furnishings, and (last but not least) John…

A lovely couple in Aromas advertised 11 week old 7/8  Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets for sale.  One almost never finds these rare and heritage breeds in California, much less in my neighborhood, so I rushed to answer the ad, and today, John and I went out to pick her up.

She’s a beauty.

The smallest of the ones available and she still weighs about 50 pounds!  She can be bred when she’s about 250 pounds, and can get up to 500 pounds. Yipes!  These are said to be the preferred pork of the royal family, which has kept them from extinction.  Hey, if it’s good for the royals, it’s good for me!  Our plan will be to take her back to Aromas (in a couple hundred pounds) to be bred, then harvest her and start over with one of her piglets. This little piggy was one of 16 born to her mama! WoW!

When we first got to the farm in Aromas, we were greeted by a gang of dogs.  The 5 of them charged down the driveway, then started wagging their tails and licking our hands. 

There were 3 pups that looked a lot like this, and their mom and dad. When the couple came out to meet us, I said that they were adorable, but not much for guard dogs.  
They surprised me by saying, “want another dog?”  I laughed and John said, “Nooo..” Darn!

We all went down to the pig sty to choose a piglet, and all the dogs followed.  As we talked and I tried to choose (So much harder than I would have thought!) I petted the dogs. The pups were so sweet and cuddly. Especially since these are working dogs. English Collies (I think they said)

who are really useful in keeping their cows and pigs in line, but not as hyper as come herding dogs I have seen. These guys are 5 months old.  
They offered the pups a few more times in conversation, but I really thought they were kidding until the end when she said,”if it doesn’t work out, we’ll take him back. We just want them to have good homes…”
Ok, if you know me at all, you know how this ends…
I say, “seriously, John, I want one.”
He says, “no”
Lather, rinse, repeat a few times until we are headed home with this sweet face asleep on my lap, and a 50 pound piglet in the dog crate!  We are calling him Sam (Sammy for short), and Ms.Piggy Royale is now known as Olivia.

I know, I know….crazy.  But, oh my god he is so sweet!  He is a little shy (I passed on the outgoing cutie-pie, hoping to better my odds of him getting along with the other 2 dogs) and follows me so closely, I’m not even sure he’s there. Perfect step, not tripping me up like SOME other dogs do.  He has barked at a few signs of danger, isn’t trying to kill the cats, and all 3 dogs are getting along great!  I don’t know how these things happen to me. It is just some wonderful, strange luck!  Tomorrow begins summer Farm Camp and now I have even more animals to share and teach the kids about!

Who knows, with Ginger looking like this today, the kids and I may be assisting a live birth!